City recorder Colin Reger, mayor David McCauley and councilman CJ Rylands discuss more changes to the 'drug house' ordinance at Thursday's council meeting.

‘Drug house’ ordinance tabled a second time

BUCKHANNON – With two council members absent and at least one question up in the air, Buckhannon City Council tabled its “drug house” ordinance for second consecutive meeting Thursday.

In the absence of councilwoman Mary Albaugh and councilman David Thomas, council voted to reschedule the first reading of the ordinance for its Oct. 18 meeting.

Council members also directed city attorney Tom O’Neill to once again revise the ordinance, narrowing it in scope to apply to only “the worst actors,” according to councilman CJ Rylands.

Language referring to the use of a firearm or weapon in the commission of a drug crime is also likely to be included.

The “drug house” ordinance – which will be Ordinance No. 428 if it passes – provides a legal mechanism for city officials to declare certain properties, including rental properties, public nuisances and issue orders of abatement if they meet certain criteria.

City officials have repeatedly explained the ordinance is intended to target property owners who knowingly allow drug activity to recur in their rental properties, even sometimes participating in that illicit activity.

One major piece of feedback that emerged from an Oct. 2 public forum about the ordinance was that area landlords would like one small word to change: the conjunction “or” to “and.”

Originally, to trigger the process through which a property could be deemed a “drug house,” only one of the following three criteria had to be met: the occurrence of two or more instances of prostitution or the illegal possession, storage or delivery/trafficking of controlled substances on the same property twice within a consecutive two-year period; the crime allegedly committed on the property qualified as a felony, i.e. punishable by imprisonment for one year or more; or the offense was manufacture of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver or delivery of a controlled substance.

However, landlords at Tuesday’s forum had requested that O’Neill revise the language, changing “or” to “and.” That would mean all three criteria would have to be met for the municipal judge to justify labeling a property a “drug house.”

At the outset of the discussion at Thursday’s council meeting, O’Neill said he’d changed a few minor words based on landlords’ feedback. For example, in one section of the law, the city attorney changed language referring to landlords “being willfully blind” to “being willfully ignorant” to drug activity.

There were other more substantive changes O’Neill had decided to leave up to council, including the or/and question, he said.

Mayor David McCauley asked the city attorney to include an exemption for medical facilities, such as licensed recovery centers.

“Both Dave Thomas and Mary Albaugh wanted to participate, but they are unable to be here tonight,” McCauley also said.

City recorder Colin Reger made a motion to table the ordinance, which was seconded by councilwoman Pam Cuppari and passed unanimously.

Following the decision, the mayor recommended the law require all three criteria to be met for a property to be deemed a drug house.

“I would feel more comfortable going with the conjunction ‘and’ as opposed to ‘or,’” McCauley said.

Rylands agreed.

“That would mean all three elements would have to be present for it to constitute a violation,” he said. “I think it makes sense. It puts a higher bar in place to create this.”

O’Neill observed the change would tighten the ordinance.

“It would target a more narrow scope of behavior,” he said. “I might recommend to council that you include any crimes committed with a firearm or any felony involving a drug offense that includes the use of a firearm.”

Rylands concluded those changes would amend the law to be “pretty specific to targeting the worst actors.”

Reger – who has been opposed to the ordinance since council first began discussing it in early June – said although he believes drugs are evil, his position on the ordinance hasn’t wavered.

“I disagree with the entire premise of it,” he said. “I am philosophically opposed to this.”

One landlord in attendance Thursday night requested the city incorporate a section stating that a written notice be sent to the landlord the first time a qualifying offense occurs on his or her property.

“Will a notice of some kind be sent out to the landlord on the first incident?” Jody Light asked. “As a landlord, I don’t want to wait until the second incident.”

McCauley said he believed that would be fair to the landlord.

“This is a tool for the landlords,” he added. “[If I were a landlord], I would redo my lease to specifically cite this ordinance if it passes.”

Light also she said hoped residents understand the majority of landlords don’t condone the type of criminal activity that would trigger use of the drug house ordinance.

She said most in the city are doing the best they can to screen their tenants and provide a safe, clean place to live to renters.

“I know we come across as a pain in the butt, but honestly, there was 20-some here at the last meeting and 20-30 the other night,” Light said. “We didn’t know – we hadn’t had a copy of the ordinance – so we maybe came off as a little aggressive because we weren’t notified.”

Light said not being directly contacted by city officials was troubling to local landlords.

“I think there was a breakdown in communication somewhere, and someone dropped the ball. I’m not sure where,” she said.

Rylands said although dialogue with landlords has been uncomfortable at times, communication is essential.

“This is a healthy process,” he said, “even though sometimes it doesn’t really feel that way.”

Following Thursday’s meeting, O’Neill said he was definitely changing “or” to “and” and incorporating a firearms or weapons element.

“It will probably be wrapped in with the second [criteria],” he said. “It will probably say ‘use of a firearm in the commission of a felony’ or something like that.”

SHOPS & SERVICES

Featured

Broaddus Wound Care receives Center of Excellence Award

Philippi, WV – Broaddus Hospital is honored to announce their wound care center is a recipient of RestorixHealth’s highest achievement, the Wound Center of Excellence Award. Recipients of this prestigious award meet or exceed national

FBI and local law enforcement lead safety training at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School on Friday

BUCKHANNON – Teachers, staff and administration at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School took part in important safety sessions Friday in an effort to support safety. The training sessions included learning about hostile intruders, how to stop the bleed, room-specific exercises, and […]

There’s more to this story! Unlock immediate access to everything on our site and get two extra months free when you subscribe for a year. Signing up is easy — just tap the button below.

judge court attorney

Upshur County woman admits to fentanyl charges

ELKINS, WEST VIRGINIA – Michaela Dawn Gregory, of Buckhannon, West Virginia, has admitted to selling fentanyl, United States Attorney William Ihlenfeld announced. Gregory, 26, pleaded guilty today to one count of “Distribution of Fentanyl” and

Buckhannon City Hall

City council votes to participate in opioid litigation settlement — but the monetary benefits aren’t yet clear

BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon has opted to participate in the opioid litigation settlement between the State of West Virginia and the U.S.’s three largest opioid distributors. Yet, exactly how much money the municipality will receive – and when […]

There’s more to this story! Unlock immediate access to everything on our site and get two extra months free when you subscribe for a year. Signing up is easy — just tap the button below.

City council approves final design, $4 million budget for long-awaited multipurpose Stockert addition

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council voted on the final design and budget for the Stockert Youth and Community Center’s long-awaited multipurpose building. City council convened for a special meeting Sept. 21 to iron out the final details for the project. […]

There’s more to this story! Unlock immediate access to everything on our site and get two extra months free when you subscribe for a year. Signing up is easy — just tap the button below.

SHOPS & SERVICES

Soccer ‘Cats earn 1-0 home win over Cedarville

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Wesleyan (4-2-2) men’s soccer team took down Cedarville (4-4-1) 1-0 thanks to a rocket from Adam Gribben on Saturday (Sept. 24) at Cebe Ross Field. In the first half,

BUHS Girls Soccer Feature Image

Soccer Lady Bucs pick up two more wins this week over East Fairmont and Robert C. Byrd

TENNERTON – The Buckhannon-Upshur Lady Buc soccer team won a pair of 1-0 contests in Big 10 Conference action this week. At home on Wednesday in their home finale, the Lady Bucs downed East Fairmont by that 1-0 score and […]

There’s more to this story! Unlock immediate access to everything on our site and get two extra months free when you subscribe for a year. Signing up is easy — just tap the button below.

SHOPS & SERVICES

Water Faucet

Anmoore, Millcreek receive large water system grants

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council announced funding for four sewer and four water system improvement projects at its meeting on Sept. 7. Details for each project are listed below.

This Week in West Virginia History: Sept. 24 – Oct. 1

Charleston, WV – The following events happened on these dates in West Virginia history. To read more, go to e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia at www.wvencyclopedia.org. Sept. 25, 1864: George Smith Patton was killed at